What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic pain disorder that affects an estimated 2-4 % of the population. It features a myriad of symptoms which can include musculoskeletal pain, morning stiffness, fatigue, sleep disturbances, headaches, impaired concentration, gastrointestinal disturbances, depression and anxiety. Fibromyalgia primarily occurs in women of childbearing age, but children, the elderly, and men can also be affected.
How Is Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?
There is no definitive diagnostic test for this condition, and the diagnosis is often missed by doctors. The physician reviews the patient's medical history and makes a diagnosis of fibromyalgia based on a history of chronic widespread pain that persists for more than 3 months. The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has developed criteria for fibromyalgia that physicians can use in diagnosing the disorder. According to ACR criteria, a person is considered to have fibromyalgia if he or she has widespread pain in combination with tenderness in at least 11 of 18 specific tender point sites along the spine and in the neck and shoulders. This finding of tenderness is almost always accompanied by other symptoms such as chronic fatigue, sleep problems and depression. FM is very similar to chronic fatigue syndrome, and some believe that they are actually different manifestations of the same disorder. Both illnesses commonly develop after periods of illness or stress or after an accident or injury.
What Causes Fibromyalgia?
The cause of FM remains unclear. Recent evidence suggests that fibromyalgia may be caused at least in part by metabolic abnormalities. Other theories include the occurrence of trauma or injury that may involve the central nervous system. Some researchers believe the syndrome may be triggered by an infectious agent such as a virus in susceptible people, but no such agent has yet been identified.
How Is Fibromyalgia Treated?
Medical treatment often involves anti-depressant medications to help with sleep disturbances, to improve mood and relax muscles. One specific anti-depressant that has shown good results is Amitriptyline (Elavil). The dose used for fibromyalgia is usually much lower than the dose used for depression.
Other medications can be helpful in the
management of this condition. See Medications
for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and
Fibromyalgia for more information. A graded exercise program can help to improve muscle tone and reduce muscle pain and stiffness. Some fibromyalgia patients benefit from physical therapy as well as heat and massage. It is also helpful to reduce stress and to avoid overexerting oneself as both can cause a worsening of
symptoms. Mediation and breathing exercises can help in this area.
What About Natural Treatments for Fibromyalgia?
Many find natural methods to be helpful. Research has shown that the combination of malic acid and magnesium can help reduce muscle pain and tenderness. Also, 5-HTP has been tested in several clinical studies with very good results. Other supplements that are utilized for fibromyalgia include coenzyme Q10, flax seed or other nutritional oils, SAM-e, ENADA, MSM, glucosamine and chondroitin sulfates, and antioxidants such as vitamins E, grape seed extract, pycnogenol and Ester-C.
A good multivitamin formula is also